Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Neanderthal Box Set by Penny Reid: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Neanderthal Box Set by Penny Reid

I’ve previously read and loved the Winston Brothers series by Penny Reid, so I jumped to download this box set when it was offered for free a while ago. It contains books 1 and 1.5 from her Knitting in the City series, three follow-up novellas with the same characters, and a couple of preview chapters from Reid’s other books. So it’s well worth the expense, even if you pay for it.

The first book, Neanderthal Seeks Human, introduces the main couple, Janie and Quinn, plus all the other characters in the series, a group of women that belong to a same knitting group in Chicago. It’s a fun and not entirely typical romance. Reid has a great knack with writing characters that tend towards unique way of thinking and regarding the world with understanding and love, and making the other characters accept them just the way they are.

Janie is a math-wizard with a habit of collecting data and blurting it out in stressful situations with absolutely zero filters. Sometimes they relate to the situation, but most of the time the workings of her brain baffle people around her. Quinn is different though and he finds her mind fascinating. A great basis for their romance.

Quinn is a head of a private security firm and insanely wealthy. He becomes Janie’s boss, but for the better part of the book she has no idea of it and believes him to be a regular security guarda plot-line that dragged on a bit too long. The Neanderthal mentioned in the title is Janie, who sees herself as one, because she’s larger than other people with an odd mind. It’s not until the second book that we really learn the reason for her habit. It’s an emotional coping mechanism she’s learned in childhood to deal with physically and emotionally absent parents.

It’s a good book, but long. Really long. According to the author’s own notes, it’s over a hundred thousand words, which is about twenty thousand more than a regular romance novel. It would be fine, if there were side plots to fill the pages, but it’s really just the two of them working towards the happily ever after. There are several side characters introduced, but despite the length of the book(s), they remain distant and two-dimensional. Some of them get their own books later in the series, but Steve the co-worker would’ve deserved a better treatment than he got.

The second book, which is marked as an in-between novel, is equally long. Neanderthal Marries Human starts with Quinn proposing to Janie and then follows the subsequent wedding planning. The actual plans are in the side-lines though. It’s more about family bonds and healing. Quinn has been cast out by his family, so Janie sees the wedding as an opportunity to bring them back together, and maybe gain a family that she’s never really had. It’s sweet and touching at times, butagainreally long.

The three short stories at least live up to their name. First one is about the honeymoon, where Janie decides to rid the tropical island of invasive toad species, much to Quinns bemusement. The other two are about Janie getting pregnant and the latter stages of her pregnancy. I haven’t read the other books in the series, so I don’t know if the child is ever born during the course of it, but that might be an amusing story too.

All in all, this was an entertaining package. However, I don’t feel the need to follow it up by reading the rest of the series, with maybe the exception of the last book that has Quinn’s best friend as the hero. I liked him. But there’s a Winston Brothers spin-off coming soon with Cletus as the main character. I’ll definitely read that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Alpha Night by Nalini Singh: review (plus some other books)

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Alpha Night by Nalini Singh
It’s been three weeks since I updated this blog the last time, so this is going to be a long post of everything I’ve read since.

I’m not sure why I bother reviewing Nalini Singh’s books anymore. They’re all great. Five stars. Even if the plot in some is slightly thinner than in others, she has the amazing ability to write unabashedly emotional characters who manage to convey their emotions straight to reader’s heart. Alpha Night is no exception.

It’s the fourth book in the Psy-Changeling spin-off series called Psy-Changeling Trinity. It’s again set in Russia, this time with a wolf pack there. Selenka is the alpha of the pack and Ethan is a damaged Arrow (as if there were any other kind). The book starts with a mating bond forming between the two at the first sight, and takes the romance from there. Obstacles on their path rise from Ethan’s mental damage that can only lead to death, on top of which the enemies of Selenka’s pack move in on them. And then there’s the larger plot of the psy-net unravelling, which may lead to the death of the entire psy-race. There are high emotions and a great reward at the end. All in all, a perfect romance novel.

The Graveyard Shift by Darynda Jones

It’s not the only book I’ve read since my last blog post. Darynda Jones published a short romance set in her Charley Davidson world. The Graveyard Shift takes place a few years after the final book in the series and features Garrett Swopes, a PI friend of Charley’s who has one task: keep Charley and Rey’s daughter safe. And then she disappears. Out of options, he seeks help from the mother of his son, whom he resents for various reasons. It’s an opportunity for a second chance romance for them. However, the book is curiously thin on romancethough there’s of course a happily ever after ending. The main focus is on Beep, the daughter, and what happens to her during her absence. Basically, the book sets up the next phase in the series. So, even if the romance is a bit dull, the book is essential reading for anyone who wants to keep reading the series.

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole is a delightful love story between two people who are both recovering from an accident that has affected their memories, but with a twistrevealed in the titlethat one of them is a biomechanical human, basically a replicant from Blade Runner. It’s set in somewhat dark future, after WW3. America is run by an organisation called Hive that controls people, or at least its employees with AIs, robots and fear. The focus is on the love story though, emphasised by the fact that the two never leave the apartment complex where they live. There’s a mystery unfolding on the background that upends both their lives when its revealed, done well-enough that I never even suspected it. Quite a lot was left unexplained in the end though, so I assume there will be a series focusing on other characters mentioned in this book. I’d read them.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Firelight by Kristen Callihan was a disappointing historical fantasy romance that I gave only three stars to. Two people with curses they want to keep hidden from the world and each other fall in love and then have to save the world from the Big Bad. There was a bit too much artificially forced secrecy between the two, and the falling in love seemed to happen outside the narrative and was simply given to the reader, but the plot was interesting and the solution to the curse was unique. I liked Archer and Miranda, didn’t instantly guess who the baddy wasor whyand approved the way the day was saved in the end, but the narrative dragged and the outside threat to the couple never felt immediate. The main character of the next book was introduced in this one, but I didn’t like him and I probably won’t read his story.

Changeling by Molly Harper

Another historical fantasy I read is Changeling by Molly Harper. It’s a delightful middle grade story of a servant girl who learns she can do magic in a society sharply divided to haves and have nots based on their ability with magic. It has everything such a book needs: a rags to riches story, adventure, making new friends in a boarding school for witches, and even a little romance. Sarah/Cassandra is a good-hearted girl who learns to survive in her new reality with the help of a magical book and her two new friends. I’ll definitely read the next book too.

Elven Doom by Lindsay Buroker

On top of these romances I read Elven Doom by Lindsay Buroker, a fourth book in the Death Before Dragons urban fantasy series. It’s yet another solid four star book from her: action packed, funny and romantic. Val and Zav’s romance should’ve moved to a new level, but things are ruined by Zav’s sister. Also the dark elves are ready to destroy the world. The book has a slight wrapping-things-up feel to it despite leaving much unsolved, but I hope this isn’t the last we hear from these characters. Things are just getting interesting. I also read a collection of short stories and scenes written from Zav’s point of view called The Forbidden Ground, which was a nice addition to the series. I’m not sure if it’s on sale yet, as it was a newsletter gift from the author to her readers. 

These books were joined by three I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. And, honestly, two of them weren’t anywhere near being published yet. Calypso’s Heart by M.C. Solaris resulted in my first ever one star review on Goodreads (I usually never write a review if it’s going to be that bad) based on the eight chapters I managed to read before giving up in rage. Paradise Rising by P.G. Shriver got two stars, but only because I actually finished it. Into the Black was a fairly interesting sci-fi mystery/romance I gave three stars to. Nothing terribly wrong with that one, but it failed to properly engage my interest. You can read my Goodreads reviews by clicking the name of the book.

All in all, a busy and interesting month of reading. NetGalley has definitely broadened my reading habits with books that I might not otherwise choose to read. If I’m not always happy with them, I at least learn a lot from them for my own writing. And that can only be a good thing.